The new Donelson Library was officially green lit recently to take center stage in the current redevelopment of Donelson Plaza.

It will replace the current, longtime location at 2315 Lebanon Pike.

While the branch was closed to in-person visits since March 16, 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions, last week’s nod to proceed with the construction of the new Donelson Library blasted forward.

“Today, I joined the virtual kickoff of the [new library’s] project management team spanning from Metro Library, general services, IT and finance departments and others,” said District 15 Metro Councilman Jeff Syracuse last week. “It’ll still be some months before we see any activity happening, but the wait is finally over. There isn’t a design yet, but that work begins soon.”

The final nod is a long time coming with the kickoff for plans, design and development in the next six months, said Metro Library public information officer Ed Brown.

“Hopefully the new library will be open sometime in 2023, but that isn’t guaranteed.”

Metro Nashville deputy finance director Mary Jo Wiggins said the initial funding for the new Donelson Library project was originally approved by the Metro Council in 2018 for the land, land development and some IT costs, all under Public Library.

“Also previously approved in 2019 was $15 million for the construction costs included under general services,” she said.

Wiggins explained the delay.

“Last spring, a non-essential spending freeze was announced, and the Donelson Library [among multiple other projects] was deemed as a non-critical capital item,” she said. “The freeze has remained in effect pending determination that Metro’s cash flow position has stabilized. One factor impacting this decision is the recently closed bond issue that allows for the commercial paper program to be fully utilized.

“Another factor is the pace of property tax collections and the implications of an identified slower trend. After the bond issuance was complete successfully in mid-February, Metro did authorize the re-start of the Donelson Library construction. Decisions on lifting the spending freeze for other projects are expected in the coming weeks.”

Brown elaborated and said initial money approved were $6 million for infrastructure changes needed and to buy the land.

“This included rerouting the road to the neighborhood behind the development and relocating electrical and sewer lines, etc.,” Brown said March 3. “In fiscal year 2019, the remaining funds in the amount of $15 million needed to build the library were funded. However, due to the fact the infrastructure items took longer than intended when the economic issues arose, all capital projects were put on hold that were not already in process. The infrastructure was finished, but the project going forward was put on hold. We received notice two weeks ago that the administration released the funds for the project to proceed.”

Why Donelson Plaza?

“This site was a collaborative effort with Councilman Syracuse, the developer, Holladay Properties and NPL,” Brown said. “This development will be great for Donelson, and [Metro] Library is excited about the site, which we will be able to accommodate a lot more patrons.”

The current Donelson Library has served its purpose well. And while it’s been updated along the way, it needed to be larger, more technology savvy and needed a facelift. While the Donelson branch is not the oldest branch in the Metro Library system, it is quite old and was part of a library building expansion program back in the 1960s that added five branches, including Donelson, Edgehill, Inglewood, Richland Park and Thompson Lane, said Brown.

“Both were built with a grant from the Carnegie Foundation,” he said.

There’s a buzz in the Donelson community as the project rolls forward. The building will be two-story and about 24,000 square feet. This will make the new library four times larger than the currently library, which is 6,054 square feet.

Citizens are stakeholders in the much-anticipated project. Metro Library made sure citizens had a say in how the library is designed. Public meetings were held in 2018.

“So we would know what the public wanted in their new library, and we plan to deliver as much as we can,” Brown said.

In a nutshell, patrons said they wanted a bigger, improved space for their library.

“We don’t assign customers to a specific library location – they’re free to access the materials at any of our locations,” said Brown. “But I can tell you that from July 2018 to June 2019, the last full fiscal year before we suspended services due to COVID-19, Donelson recorded 134,141 visits and more than 130,000 transactions.”

Brown said a groundbreaking was held when the project started originally, and a ribbon cutting is planned when the library is completed.

There were several polls conducted to gauge the community’s thoughts on a new location. The two things most noted and liked were Kroger and the Donelson Library.

Chris Morin was manager of the library for 13 years. He said almost every day prior to last March’s in-person shutdown, patrons expressed fond memories of coming to the branch as a child. As adults, they bring their own children and grandchildren. It’s a respite, and all hope the new library will bring new experiences and memories, while also expanding experiences for old-timers.

“I think it’s fantastic we are finally moving forward,” said Morin. “The community has been waiting for years now. It took Jeff Syracuse and his predecessor who helped get this to fruition. We are super excited.”

Morin said the demographics have changed a lot for patrons.

“One-third of our patrons are the older ones,” Morin said. “But, many have aged and moved on. This area has skyrocketed in the past four to five years, and that decreases our senior population.”

Those loyal patrons loved to browse the history sections.

“Now, the young ones with kids want more story times and e-books,” said Morin. “There are a lot of new moms and dads here now.”

Believe it or not, books are only “half the story” at the branch. There are electronic books at no cost and even streaming and downloading of movies.

“Half of what we check out is electronic, generational stuff, and half are books,” said Morin.

The new location will provide even more amenities. WiFi is available when the library is open, but the current location only provides two charging spaces. That will change. And, there are no meeting spaces currently or are there dedicated children and teen programing spaces.

And though patrons can’t come inside the branch, there’s currently a “hot spot” for Wi-Fi in the parking lot, as well as curbside assistance.

When it closed March 16, 2020, Metro allowed employees to work from home for the next six weeks, said Morin.

“We used that time to work on virtual programming,” he said. “We worked on Facebook pages. It’s amazing to see the creativity and drive everyone has for the patrons.”

Employees also worked on collection maintenance to weed out the old, rearranged collections and conducted intensive inventory.

The Donelson branch opened for curbside assistance in September. Patrons can go online and order a book for the branch. They then can drive around to the back of the branch, call the library’s number, and the books will be brought out to the car, said Morin.

The branch lost some employees during the closure and hiring freeze. Two were directed to the Hermitage branch. Currently, five employees run the library.

Since Sept. 21, 4,240 books were delivered curbside. E-book orders increased quite a bit during the past year.

Morin is excited for the community and eagerly awaits tentative opening of the new library in 2023.

“When our patrons walk into the new building, they will first notice so much more space,” he said. “Of course, we will have a lot of books. But people will come for our programs planned, to gather information, have small group gatherings, take yoga, crocheting and more.”

There will also be maker’s spaces, whereby 3-D printers, studio work and other educational opportunities will be offered. Plans also call for much more space for children and many more docking spaces.

“They were talking about a new library well before I got here,” said Morin. “It’s been a long process. The community has been wonderfully supportive. Everyone looks forward to more and better services. We’ve been here since the 1960s, and this new building will bring us into the 2023 world and beyond.”